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Enrique’s Journey and Illegal Immigration
March 25, 2015
Recently, some freshmen classes at Watchung Hills have finished or are currently reading Enrique’s Journey, a nonfiction text by journalist Sonia Nazario. Over the 4-5 week study of the book, the topic of illegal immigration was presented and thoroughly explained. Through Enrique’s Journey, many students for the first time learned of smugglers, vicious bandits, apathetic authorities, and the immigrants forced to face all of them.
The book tackles the issue of illegal immigration through one young traveller named Enrique. Years after his mother, Lourdes, flees to America from Honduras, Mexico in the hopes to earn more money for her poverty-stricken family, Enrique undergoes a harrowing trek by train top to reunite with her. Through extensive interviews, research, and even a cautious taste of the grueling journey itself, Nazario was able to use Enrique and Lourdes’s experiences to inform others about the truth of Mexican migrants and their struggles— and its ill effects on the US government.
While Enrique’s Journey successfully asserted the severity of illegal immigration and was able to reach a new, uninformed audience, the issue has unfortunately lingered since its 2006 release as a prominent and widespread issue in America.
The Economic Slump
One major factor contributing to those fleeing from Mexico is how the nation is crime-ridden, dangerous, and extremely poor. According to the World Bank, “53% of Mexico’s population of 104 million residents live in poverty, which is defined as living on less than $2 a day. Close to 24% of Mexico’s population live in extreme poverty, which means they live on less than $1 a day”. This economic crisis began in 1983, when the Mexican peso became devalued. Taking advantage of the cheaper labor, US factory owners constructed maquiladoras, factories searching for cheap labor from poor Mexicans who needed the work, along the Mexico-US border.
However, within a decade the maquiladoras completely failed and were almost immediately relocated to Asia, which had even cheaper labor. With thousands of Mexican workers unemployed, the economy spiraled into a decline. The economic failure’s effects is especially evident in Enrique’s Journey. Nueva Suyapa (one of the poorest communities in Tegucigalpa, Honduras), Enrique’s hometown, is repeatedly described as harboring scores of drug addicts, beggars, and families who reside in one or two-room shacks with roofs of tin.
With this level of poverty, America seems like a financial paradise for Mexicans. Lourdes’ exposure of America was glossy depictions of Las Vegas, Disney World, and New York City she saw on television. Meanwhile, the Mexico-US border was shoddily guarded, especially since 9/11 attacks had diverted the government’s attention. Financial security seemed tantalizingly close that it is no wonder she and many other Mexicans decided to cross the border.
Illegal immigration’s main problem stems from how migrants arrive in the United States illegally and do not possess and cannot obtain the legal documents that affirms them as citizens, which causes a number of problems economically and politically for the US government. Some legal Americans hold resentment for having Mexican immigrants “steal” the jobs meant for them. For example, in March 2005, Wal-Mart was fined $11 million for having untold hundreds of illegal immigrants nationwide clean its stores.
What is worse is that Wal-Mart was unaware of its wrongdoing. An instance like this shows how easy it is for immigrants to acquire jobs, most of the time through fake IDs that appear authentic enough for employers to hire the immigrants. Enrique, Lourdes, and other fellow immigrants mainly worked as house painters, in bars, and other low-income jobs, all without a second glance from their employers that they may be undocumented migrants. In addition, because migrants are so willing to work for lower wages in shabbier conditions and do rough, menial labor, employers might also turn a blind eye so they can turn more profits.
For the average American, undocumented immigration brings zero benefits and only weighs them down economically. According to White, by “allowing… US businesses to pay under-market wages and benefits to undocumented workers, it depresses wages for all workers in the US. All Americans workers, then have decreased incomes, lower benefits and higher rates of poverty and hunger.” With migrants acting as a ball and chain on the ankles of enraged American workers, many Hispanics, immigrants or not, have been labelled with the slur “illegals”.
A political factor comes into play with immigrants who may have legal relatives or grown children who were born in the US and are thus valid residents. With Hispanics surpassing African-Americans “as the largest ethnic group in the United States,” they represent the largest minority vote, and can unfairly tip the scales in the favor of whichever party has been better to them. According to liberal politics expert Deborah White, “Many believe that the Bush Administration’s lack of immigration enforcement in 2004 was directly connected to the Republican Party’s goal to court the Hispanic vote, and to entice Hispanics to join Republican ranks.”
So these dual factors: easy, cheap labor for massive profits and an overall stronger business network, as well as an ethnic majority vote that can be played to attract more Hispanic voters in their favor, adds to the government’s dilemma over illegal immigration. While the government recognizes it as a problem, the “benefits” it brings prove too sweet to sacrifice.
Solving Illegal Immigration
Enrique’s Journey focused on both Enrique and Lourdes, with Lourdes falling in pitfalls of financial woes and Enrique fighting to survive the dangerous expedition. The book brings up important points: even after incredible suffering to make it to America, if they survive and are not deported, many end up like Lourdes and can barely make enough to support themselves in the new country, much less help their extended family back in Mexico. However, there are forces who aim to resolve the issues that come with unauthorized immigration by aiding the migrants themselves.
This past November, the Obama Administration was to launch a new program that benefitted migrants with children who were legal citizens, only to be halted and delayed in February by federal judge Andrew Hanen along with an agreement by 26 states. The Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), if implemented, was to award up to 3.7 million immigrants work permits and legal protection, as long as they had children who were legal residents. Those against Obama’s plan argue that he does not have the power to take such an initiative on his own, failing to consult with other parties and let them give their opinion.
“The government has pointed this Court to no law that gives [the Department of Homeland Security] such wide-reaching discretion to turn 4.3 million individuals from one day being illegally in the country to the next day having lawful presence,” Hanen claimed.
Meanwhile, Democratic members of Congress and other White House officials assert that Obama’s motives fall well within his ability politically. Obama announced his decision on November 20, saying in a televised speech that because Congress did not pass a bill pertaining to immigrants, he would take action himself “to extend deferred deportation status and grant work permits,” which would have benefitted about half of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants currently in America.
“The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The new program that was to be carried out in November was meant to be an expansion of an existing program enacted in 2012, which currently helps about 640,000 immigrants. The program, called “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), provided deferred deportation status and work permits” for as many as 1.2 million illegal migrants who came to America with parents. On November 20, Obama also expanded DACA for another 300,000 unauthorized immigrants, but that, along with the start of DAPA, were affected by Hanen’s ruling. The immigrants under the original 2012 DACA, however, were not impacted.
The Future of Illegal Immigration
As a core text in the ninth grade curriculum, Enrique’s Journey acts as an effective tool to teach students the somewhat obscure topic of undocumented immigration.
“Enrique’s Journey is meant to show the true struggles of immigration that are too often masked by dramatization in the media,” said freshman Amreeta Verma. “The book is supposed to reveal the truth of the matter. I believe that if someone is willing to take such a risk to come to the United States to achieve their dream, they should be allowed to stay and not be deported.”
Enrique’s Journey managed to succinctly address the complication behind this tangled-up, multi-sided problem. Almost an exact decade after Wal-Mart was caught red-handed hiring illegal immigrants, the issue of illegal immigration is still festering in a stagnant pool of political and social debate.
“The issue of immigration will remain a problem until Barack Obama can get Congress and people in Southern states affected by border crossing to agree on a law that can fix this mess.” Amreeta concluded.